Grant Balfour returns to game action after knee surgery

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Grant Balfour is five weeks into a 4-6 week recovery timetable for knee surgery and the A’s closer saw game action yesterday for the first time, throwing an inning against minor leaguers.

Jane Lee of reports that Balfour is slated to make his official spring training debut Thursday, so barring any setbacks it sounds like he should be ready for Opening Day.

Balfour stepped into the closer role for the first time at age 35 and saved 24 games with a 2.53 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 75 innings, but had knee problems late in the season and had to shut things down after trying to throw early in camp last month.

David Phelps to undergo Tommy John surgery

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Pitcher David Phelps has a torn UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2018 season, the Mariners announced on Wednesday. Phelps was making brief one-inning stints in the Cactus League as he worked his way back from a procedure to remove a bone spur from his elbow last September. He said he felt the ligament tear on his final pitch against the Angels in his March 17 appearance.

Phelps, 31, was expected to set up for closer Edwin Diaz. The right-hander, between the Marlins and Mariners last season, posted a 3.40 ERA with a 62/26 K/BB ratio in 55 2/3 innings. He and the Mariners avoided arbitration in January, agreeing on a $5.55 million salary for the 2018 campaign. Phelps will become eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season.

As the Mariners noted in their statement, the expected recovery period for Tommy John surgery is 12-15 months, so this very likely cuts into Phelps’ 2019 season as well.